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February 24, 2004

Style with Diana Michelle Fox

Around this time of the year, I feel a little like I am falling off a cliff. No, I don't speak of winter blues, the approach of finals week, or the mess that's piling up in my apartment. I speak of a sadly neglected area in the life of most college students—our health.

I always start the school year super healthy after I've had the summer to do as I please. I spent part of this past spring and summer hiking through Grecian isles, cycling through the southern Netherlands, swimming in my pool, and tanning at the Jersey shore. As a result, I was bronzed, toned, and the picture of health when I got to school in the fall. I ate well all summer, got enough rest, had tons of exercise, and felt better than I ever had.

However, if someone were to graphically represent my health at this point in time, the graph would be a continual downward slope. Five months of eating too much chocolate, drinking too much coffee and alcohol, and exercising only sporadically have left me feeling generally unhealthy. I have descended the mountain of heath that I so easily ascended five months ago.

I know from talking to friends and fellow students that this is not an uncommon dilemma. A great many of us put our health aside as we take care of other responsibilities. Yes, we strive to live up to the University of Chicago motto—Crescat Scientia, Vita Excolatur—but I think a far better motto is Anima Sana in Corpore Sano—"For how can we improve our minds without attending to our bodies?" Furthermore, how can we attend to our appearance without feeling good? As the writer of a column about appearance, I feel obligated to help you to feel good—thus, I plan to share a few small changes with you that I've made in the past two weeks. These changes have already made a significant difference in my health, and I hope you will consider following in my footsteps.

Carry a water bottle. I always detested this idea, because a water bottle seemed too cumbersome to carry all day long. But now, I too am among the water bottle-toting crowd—and I've experienced excellent results. You don't realize how thirsty you are until you actually start drinking water all the time. I found that I had been depriving myself of this most necessary substance in my neglect to hydrate. Now that I drink more water, my skin feels less dry. I'm not hungry all the time, as I was before (after all, it is common to mistake thirst for hunger).

Treat your exercise time as a class. Most of us plan our days around our classes, so why not include exercise in that daily plan? I place my time on the Natural Runner at Henry Crown (which, by the way, gives an infinitely better workout than the more popular Precor) on the same level as eating or sleeping. I sleep better, feel stronger, and focus more just because of the simple change of making exercise a priority.

Eat breakfast. OK, I'm sure you have all heard this a million times, but it's true. I'm not talking about Pop-Tarts and hot chocolate, either. I mean real breakfast food, like oatmeal, orange juice, or yogurt. Not only will you stave off hunger during your morning classes, but also you will have more energy and feel less inclined to eat junk food during the rest of the day.

Establish a bedtime ritual. One thing I've never really done in college is actually get ready for bed. I've always been more likely to pass out when I am simply too tired to stay awake any longer. Now, though, I have a routine: I put on pretty pajamas, moisturize my skin, use an eye mask, and take some deep breaths. The point of the ritual is to allow my mind to truly unwind and enter a state of relaxation. Even if I don't sleep a full night, I feel more relaxed when I wake up than if I had slept for more hours after passing out in my clothes. When it comes to sleep, it's quality that's important, not quantity.

I'm certainly not pushing anything too profound or out of the ordinary here. Most of us have the common sense to know that a person should drink enough water, exercise, eat breakfast, and make time to sleep. My intent is to urge you to put these ideas into practice and to start taking better care of yourselves right now—before you fall ill or suffer serious long-term consequences. Good luck!